The ABC and its star reporter Louise Milligan didn’t name Christian Porter in a bombshell report revealing a minister had allegedly raped a woman in the ’80s before she took her own life.
But the Attorney-General, 50, and the who’s who of lawyers representing him argue the national broadcaster still ‘gravely’ injured his reputation by referring to the accused man as a ‘senior’ Morrison Government minister and ‘Cabinet’ official.
Porter sued the ABC and Ms Milligan at the Federal Court on Monday, represented by heavyweight criminal defence barrister Bret Walker SC (who defended Cardinal George Pell), defamation expert Sue Chrysanthou SC (Geoffrey Rush) and solicitor Rebekah Giles.
In court documents, Porter’s lawyers alleged the broadcaster and reporter wanted to ensure ‘he was publicly condemned and disgraced’ even though the now-dead woman’s claims ‘could never be proved in any criminal or civil proceeding.’ (NSW Police have closed an investigation into the matter).
The minister’s lawyers also alleged that Ms Milligan engaged in a ‘campaign against Porter to harm his reputation and have him removed as Attorney-General’, allegedly republishing assertions the victim should be ‘believed’ and ‘deserves justice’.
Porter’s lawyers also claim the minister was never given an opportunity to respond to the allegations in the ABC report before the story was published.
The ABC has only commented to say it will defend the court action – likely to be the most high-profile defamation case since Rebel Wilson sued Bauer Media.
Christian Porter (front row, far left) with the Morrison Government’s inner and outer ministry. As Attorney-General, Mr Porter is one of the administration’s most senior ministers
On the front bench: Porter – the leader of the House as well as the Attorney-General – sits between Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton
The words that allegedly identified Porter
While the ABC’s initial February 26 article never specifically named Porter, his lawyers claim its descriptions of the unnamed accused rapist as a ‘senior minister’, ‘Cabinet minister’ and ‘senior member of the government’ led to him being identified.
The article said an incident had allegedly occurred in Sydney in 1988 when the woman was 16-years-old.
Porter’s lawyers argued in court documents that there were just 16 men in the Federal Cabinet at the time the article was published.
Meanwhile, there were just six men who were ‘approximately the same age’ as the woman.
Including Porter, only three of those were considered ‘senior’ members of the Cabinet, the statement of claim said.
Porter being part of this ‘limited class of persons’ led to him being identified as the man who there were ‘reasonable grounds’ to believe was an alleged rapist, the court documents said.
Journalist Louise Milligan broke the story that the Prime Minister and other MPs had been sent a document making the claims, which Porter denies ever hpapened
Porter ‘named every six seconds’ on Twitter
Meanwhile, on the day the ABC’s story was published, and afterwards, Porter’s name began trending on Twitter, his lawyers told the court.
Traffic to his website, Christianporter.com.au, and his Facebook page, spiked.
Two days after the ABC published its article, someone tried to change Porter’s entry on Wikpedia, an online encyclopedia anyone can edit, court documents said.
‘On Sunday 28 February 2021 an unknown person attempted to amend Porter’s Wikipedia entry to include the fact he was in Sydney in 1988,’ the lawyers argued.
On March 2, the ABC ran a second story referring to the alleged victim as having participated in a state debating team.
Porter’s lawyers argued that he was known to be a champion debater who attended the World Universities Debating Championship in Sydney in 1988.
Attorney-General Christian Porter (above, with ex-wife Jennifer Porter, who is no connection to the case)
The second ABC report also featured a friend of the alleged victim who also appeared on a Four Corners program about Porter last November.
Porter’s lawyers claimed that documentary had alleged that he had a ‘history of mistreating women’, was a sexist and a misogynist.
Former prime minister Malcolm Turnbull had appeared in the documentary – and told the Sydney Morning Herald in March that ‘everybody knows’ who the alleged rapist was, and called for him to out himself.
At one point, Porter’s lawyers alleged he was being named on Twitter as the alleged perpetrator ‘every six seconds’, according to the ABC’s Media Watch program.
Porter was ‘was obliged to identify himself as the subject of the article’ on Wednesday, March 3, his lawyers said.
A teary Porter vehemently denied the claims at a press conference in his home city of Perth – saying the alleged attack ‘just didn’t happen’.
He has taken mental health leave from his position as the nation’s top lawyer through to the end of the month.
The ABC and Ms Milligan are yet to file defences.
The case is expected to come before the Justice Jayne Jagot for a case management hearing at a later date.